PM Spokeswoman: This Is Not the Time to Discuss Key Peace Issues

Israeli officials welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush's call Monday night for an international conference to spur peace efforts with the Palestinians, but a senior official said this is not the time to discuss the key issues.

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the conference would provide an opportunity to bring together all those who are truly interested in peace in the Middle East.

However, she said it is too early to talk about full-fledged peace talks as long as Palestinian violence against Israel continues. A peace settlement would require agreement on such contentious issues as borders, the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees, and the status of Israel's disputed capital Jerusalem.

"Israel has been very clear," Eisin said. "We don't think at this stage you can talk about final status issues, but such a meeting would certainly add to the capability of arriving at the core issues. Still, Israel thinks the best solution for Israel is Palestine. We need to have a two-state solution, not one state, or Israel ruling over them."

Saudi welcome

Saudi Arabia welcomed Bush's call, urging wide international backing to avoid repeating the failures of earlier initiatives.

"[The call] has important positive elements ... in line with the Arab peace initiative," the Saudi Press Agency quoted an official statement yesterday.

The official Saudi Arabian news agency did not say whether Saudi Arabia - which unlike Egypt and Jordan does not have diplomatic relations with Israel - would actually participate at the proposed international conference. Saudi participation would mark a significant development in Riyadh's policy.

Earlier yesterday, Syrian President Bashar Assad expressed skepticism, dismissing Bush's international summit initiative as "just words." Assad said he hoped Bush's announcement was serious, and that Syria was ready for peace talks with Israel, but only in the presence of an honest broker.

He did not elaborate on whether he considered the United States as such.